Could it possibly be true moms who have more children live longer? Two new studies suggest that, despite the extra aggravation/stress/etc. multiple kiddos can cause, the answer is "yes."
The first study looked at how quickly a woman's body ages. While one might guess the more babies she has, the faster her body, ahem, matures, perhaps that's just how we feel, and not based in reality! In fact, research out of Simon Fraser University suggests a correlation between the rate at which cells age and having more surviving children.
The telomeres (the protective tips at the end of each DNA strand) of 75 women from two neighboring indigenous rural Guatemalan communities were examined at two points over 13 years. What researchers found surprised them: Moms with more children had longer telomeres, which is associated with longevity. "The slower pace of telomere shortening found in the study participants who have more children...may be attributed to the dramatic increase in estrogen, a hormone produced during pregnancy," lead researcher Pablo Nepomnaschy explains. "Estrogen functions as a potent antioxidant that protects cells against telomere shortening."
But he adds one important caveat: "The women we followed over the course of the study were from natural fertility populations, where mothers who bear numerous children receive more social support from their relatives and friends. Greater support leads to an increase in the amount of metabolic energy that can be allocated to tissue maintenance, thereby slowing down the process of aging."
In other words, if we try to raise a big brood all on our own, our telomeres may shorten more quickly. Aha, that explains the lines around my eyes and gray hair...
Meanwhile, another study finds moms-of-twins may actually live longer. Are all mothers with multiples laughing hysterically? Well, just consider research out of the University of Utah, and published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, indicates mothers who have more than one baby at a time are genetically stronger. Yes, particularly healthy women may have developed an evolutionary adaption allowing them to pass on double their genes in one shot. This phenomenon seems to specifically apply to moms of fraternal twins, which can be hereditary.
Commented study researcher Shannen Robson, "We expected that since most humans have one baby at a time, having two would be really burdensome," says study researcher Shannen Robson. But the researchers found just about the opposite was true from a longevity standpoint. "[Twins] are an identifier of these women who are remarkable, physically exceptional people."
To reach their conclusions, researchers delved into the Utah Population Database to study 58,786 women from the 1800s. And what they discovered was moms of twins had longer life spans, could bear children for more years, needed less time to recover between pregnancies, and had more kids!
So again, there's a catch. This study obviously looked at natural family planning, and wouldn't apply to moms who conceived twins with the help of IVF.
In any case, these studies are good news for moms like me, with three kids, and who may even want more (no I'm not clinically insane, to my knowledge). Because Lord knows I feel like I age a year every week! I guess it's all in my head.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.